“Coming Home is Nothing Special.”

Ben hesitated as he looked at the floor, pondered what he had just said, and then explained his statement. “When Billie and I were first married I always looked forward to going home. Regardless of who got home first we would always greet each other in a special way. It really felt good to go home. Now there’s nothing special at all about coming come. I miss the way it was at first.” When I asked Ben if he thought Billie felt the same way, he responded, “Well, we really haven’t talked about it. She hasn’t complained or fussed about what we have now, so maybe she’s comfortable with everything.” As we talked further I began to understand Ben’s sadness and his sense of loss. Like many other couples Ben and Billie had fallen into the rut of neglect. Over time they gradually changed the “coming home” process. The original “Honey, I’m Home!” announcement and the “Welcome Home!” response somehow had been left behind on their relationship journey. As a result of the mutual neglect Ben could say, “Coming home is nothing special.”*

Perhaps you can connect with Ben’s frustration. You might be wondering about Billie’s feelings regarding the same issue. You might also be wondering why I’m making such a big deal about greetings. The truth is that arrivals (the way people greet each other) and departures (the way people say goodbye to each other) have a significant impact upon personal relationships. A related truth is that the “greetings-and-goodbyes” pattern will also help or hurt the future relationship, depending upon the quality of the arrival-departure behavior. In light of these truths we would do well to re-assess our arrivals and departures. Our examination could reveal the need for some personal repair work as we travel the Relationship Highway.


Every couple’s relationship is impacted by the coming-home experience. Most spouses usually return home from work or from local outings on the same day. Business trips or personal excursions could delay the homecoming experience for several days, perhaps even longer. However, sooner or later it’s time to come home. When we do, the process we use in coming home and greeting a spouse is extremely important. Our arrival style has immediate, short-term, and long-term influences upon our relationship. First, there is an immediate positive or negative impact upon how both spouses react and feel in the moment. Secondly, the initial greeting process often sets the tone for the remainder of the evening or at least for some period of time depending upon when the arrival occurs. Thirdly, the health and happiness of the long-term relationship is slowly but surely shaped by the specific impact of each day’s arrival experience. This impact potential should motivate us to make certain that we have a positive arrival.

Consider your marital relationship for a moment. Without doubt you would prefer to have special times with your spouse with, shall we say, special effects. These “special effects” promote consistent mutual interest and satisfaction. Predictably, a negative arrival will always hinder the emergence of special effects. Thankfully, positive arrivals uphold special effects. Therefore, wise couples will make every effort to pause in their activities long enough to insure a positive arrival. Their efforts will pay great dividends in the maintenance of the relationship’s special effects.

Without doubt you’ve experienced both positive and negative arrivals. As you recall your arrivals history try to identify what behaviors distinguished the positive from the negative experiences. Your effort could lead to a helpful list of “things to do” and “things to avoid.” In my professional experience I’ve talked with hundreds of couples about this important issue, and I’ve heard many stories that included a wide variety of negative and positive behavior. I’ve listened specifically for patterns of behavior rather than for isolated events. Admittedly, the isolated events can be very interesting, but usually they do not have the heavy impact as does the customary or default pattern. So, the key question is, “What is the typical or usual way you greet each other during your arrival time?”

Let’s consider several possible scenarios that could evolve into negative patterns. Jane has been at home all day struggling with one-year-old Jarod. Exhausted and stressed by her child’s behavior she watches the clock for her husband’s arrival from work. Finally, she hears Jack’s car and smiles with relief. “Now it’s handoff time,” she thinks as she stares at her difficult and demanding son. She picks Jarod up and holds him out for his father to take the moment he enters the house. She manages a frustrated “It’s your turn now. I’m exhausted” statement just before she heads for either the bedroom or bathroom, depending upon which is more urgent. Jack could interpret this scenario in either a positive or negative manner, depending perhaps upon his personal stress level and the expectations he had in mind for his homecoming. As an isolated event the “child handoff” could be totally okay, but as a pattern it could have a very negative impact upon the couple’s basic relationship.

In another situation Bob arrives home exhausted from work. The mandatory two-hour overtime has begun to take its toll on his physical stamina and mental attitude. He pulls into his driveway and tenses up as he thinks “I wonder what Betty’s chore list is like today.” Bob knows from years of experience that Betty always has several jobs she expects him to do when he first gets home from work. He also knows that a delay or a refusal in doing the chores will only lead to a turbulent evening in that Betty will either be angry and fuss or else she’ll withdraw and ignore him. Bob is very willing to work hard at home, but he would like a positive welcome from his wife and perhaps a few minutes to rest before starting the chores. In his opinion the chores are never a matter of emergency and could be completed a little later. Without regard for his preferences, however, Betty is determined that her “to do” list be his top priority. The negative chore-list pattern that Betty and Bob have developed is placing their relationship at risk. Certainly, chores must be completed but not at the expense of a positive arrival process.

In a third scenario Alexia was extremely frustrated with her husband, Al. After three years of marriage she is tired of his constant criticism. Because of her lengthy commute from work she gets home about an hour later than does Al. Long ago she relinquished her hope that he would have dinner prepared for her as a special type of homecoming. Instead, she learned to expect a barrage of negativity and the absence of any plans for dinner. He had made his position very clear:  “Cooking and housework are your jobs to do—not mine.” On the occasion described her prediction was correct. His first comment was “What’s for dinner? I’m starved.” A complaint quickly followed: “I told you last night that I needed my baseball uniform washed. Why didn’t you do it? I can’t believe you’re so lazy.” Alexia sighed in frustration as she headed for the kitchen. One thought circled in her mind:  “With all this criticism why do I even come home?”

These three couples are experiencing negative arrival patterns in the form of child handoffs, chore lists, or critical remarks. Other couples struggle with different negative patterns through which spouses feel ignored by silence or are ignited to conflict. These destructive behaviors might be motivated by high stress, excessive fatigue, unresolved resentment, or simply a selfish attitude. In the midst of such unhealthy patterns any couple faces a bad breakdown or a costly collision in their travel along the Relationship Highway. Clearly, a successful journey requires some serious repair work on both attitudes and actions.
A positive arrival pattern is definitely a goal worth pursuing. Each couple needs to consider specific behaviors that will provide a positive arrival experience. Several questions could be discussed. “How do you like to be greeted when you first arrive home?” “What would you prefer that I do or not do when you first get home?” “What would your perfect homecoming look like?” While the details are unique to each couple the basic pattern probably contains several common actions. Let’s look briefly at three suggested actions.  Let’s think of these suggestions as “Points to Ponder” for relationship growth. 
*Acknowledgment. Each spouse acknowledges the other spouse’s presence. The receipt of a simple “hi” is much better than being silently ignored.
*Affection. Each spouse expresses positive affection in a verbal or physical manner, whichever is preferred by the other person. A touch or a hug usually conveys positive feelings toward the other person, and a kiss is an even stronger communicator of one’s feelings. (However, if you do kiss your spouse upon arrival, be sure that your motive is sincere. Otherwise, you could be accused of just paying “lip service.”) 
*Appreciation. Each spouse shares an expression of appreciation for something that the other one has done. A sincere “Thank you” can generate friendliness and warmth which in turn creates an overall positive emotional climate.

Additional suggestions could be considered that would represent positive actions that would promote a positive arrival. The three that I’ve listed will hopefully “prime the pump” of your creativity to generate more helpful actions. A productive discussion of this topic with your spouse will provide more information about what is preferred and requested. In order for your creative ideas to be implemented you’ll have to stop what you’re doing and literally pause for all arrivals. Hopefully, it will be “the pause that refreshes” your relationship! 


Because of its impact upon key relationships every homecoming deserves to be safeguarded. Several specific safeguards merit our attention, three in particular.
Safeguard #1: Resolve the initiation process.

One important safeguard deals with the issue of initiation. If one spouse is already home and the other spouse arrives home, which one is responsible for initiating the greeting? In some marriages the person who is already home expects the arriving spouse to initiate the contact. For example, the wife has already gotten home and is working in her bedroom. The husband arrives home but she makes no effort to go to him to welcome him home. She believes that it’s his place to find her and greet her in the way she prefers. In this marriage the arriving person has to be the initiator. In other marriages the spouse who is home is automatically the host or hostess and assumes the initiator role. The one who is already at home listens for the arrival of the other spouse, and then that spouse actively goes to greet the one coming home. Either process will work fine as long as both spouses understand and prefer their arrival pattern. Problems arise when each spouse expects the other one to be the initiator but the expectations are not discussed or resolved.
Safeguard #2:  Prepare for the homecoming.

Another safeguard deals with the issue of preparation. What types of preparation are involved in a positive arrival pattern? The person who is already home could make certain preparations for the other spouse’s arrival. Likewise, the one coming home can help the arrival process through appropriate preparation. For example, a common error is made by the spouse who brings emotional baggage (like stress or anger) into the arrival process. The stress or anger will obviously interfere with a positive arrival. Somehow each spouse must learn to leave job stress at work and not bring it home. A variety of helpful techniques can be implemented to be able to leave work at the work site. Preparation for homecoming involves a re-focusing from work to home. One fellow was prone to bring his job stress and anger home with him, and he would yell at the wife and children even though they had done nothing wrong. A technique that helped his situation was to take fifteen minutes to go directly to his bedroom, take a quick shower, put on casual clothes, and then come out to see his family. The initial greeting was basically postponed until he could get his attitude where it needed to be. Thankfully, his wife and children were willing to be understanding and patient with his initial transition from work to home. Developing a relaxation process prior to coming home or immediately upon being home can be a powerful deterrent to anger and conflict. My thoughts about this particular family generated a little motto about relaxation that could hold big benefit when practiced. Rushing home could be positive when we’re eager to see our spouse and children. On the other hand, the rush to get home could itself generate negative tension and stress. That kind of rush spells trouble. The motto is inherent within the word R.U.S.H.:   “Relaxation Usually Safeguards Homecomings”
Safeguard #3:  Respect the arrival time. 

Timing is another important issue. Problems occur when a spouse does not come home at the time the person at home expects. The delay is often interpreted in a negative way by the spouse who is waiting at home, especially if a meal has been prepared or some special activity has been scheduled. Both spouses need to be very sensitive to time issues and should be respectful of each other’s schedules. Saying “I’ll be there when I get there” is usually not a good idea in showing respect for your spouse’s time. A delayed arrival should be communicated to the person who is waiting. That communication is basic courtesy. A respect for the arrival time could mean that we say “no” to requests or demands that would delay our return home. How we deal with the issue of time basically boils down to priorities. What’s more important to us—respecting our spouse or pleasing other people? Showing respect for the spouse in regard to the arrival time is an important safeguard for the marriage relationship. 

Departures from home are similar to arrivals in importance and impact. The goodbye process provides, at least in part, the specific memory that will endure throughout the day until the next arrival home. A negative goodbye will “leave a bad taste in the mouth” while a positive departure will “leave a good taste in the mouth” of both people. This last impression is very significant, just as the first impression is in the arrival process.
The departure process is unique to every relationship and to each individual. Two spouses would do well to discuss their departure preferences. Key questions to ask include “What would you prefer that I do or not do when I leave each morning to go to work?” and “What kind of a goodbye do you want?” Hopefully, both people will work hard to understand and accommodate the other person’s preferences. All preferences should reinforce two important efforts: (1) promote the relationship, and (2) provide damage control.

(1) Promote the relationship.
The departure is a great time for both people to promote their relationship prior to their time apart. This promotion can be achieved in many different ways. On a basic level we could use an “ABC” model to accomplish some level of relationship promotion.
            A = Affirm the relationship. (“I love you and I’ll miss you,”)
            B = Bring some affection. (Touch, hug, kiss)
            C = Confirm the return. (“I’ll be home at the usual time. See you then.”)

In many families one spouse leaves home before the other spouse wakes up. In these situations both spouses can be creative about positive ways to say goodbye when there is no face-to-face meeting. Written notes (like “Have a great day!”) or small gifts (like a cup of coffee) are examples of positive non-verbal goodbyes. Or, the morning goodbye can be said at bedtime the night before.
(2) Provide damage control.

A positive departure can be a real challenge if we’ve had some type of disagreement and there is an unresolved conflict on the table. Unsettled issues and hurt feelings call for creative work in damage control in regard to the departure process. Instead of leaving in sullen silence or abusive anger we might say something like “I regret that we’ve been arguing. We’ll work it out somehow. I love you and hope you have a good day.” Statements like this do not automatically resolve the conflict, but they can help safeguard the relationship. Hopefully, our perspective is that we’re just “butting heads” about some specific issue, but our relationship itself is not involved and is not at stake. A key question to consider before departure is simply, “Is there any type of damage control I need to complete before I leave?” 

The way we leave each other at departure time is very significant. Even though we may be excited about where we’re going we still experience a level of sadness about leaving the people we love. There is therefore an element of grieving in every goodbye, just as there is an element of joy in every greeting. An appropriate motto to follow might be: “Greet when you meet; grieve when you leave.” Make the most of every arrival and every departure. 

Concluding Thoughts . . .
Our travels on physical highways are always threatened and jeopardized when other drivers are trying either to merge into traffic or to exit from the roadway. For the sake of safety and success all drivers involved must stay aware of the other cars and the intentions of those drivers. For the merging and exiting actions to be completed without incident all drivers must accommodate each other with mutual respect and consideration. Damage, destruction, and even death can occur when the “rules of the road” are violated.

Likewise, safe travel along the Relationship Highway requires that we deal effectively with all arrivals and departures. Caution should be taken and skill must be used when merging occurs and when an exit is taken. Our “hello” and “goodbye” behavior has a profound impact upon the current and continuing health and happiness of our relationships. Therefore, we must use these times as opportunities to safeguard and strengthen our relationships. Additionally, it is hoped that our behavior in following the “rules of the road” will provide a positive example for our children to follow. Through our modeling and our messages we will train them how to greet upon arrival and how to leave at departure.    

I wish you well as you ponder the relationship significance of arrivals and departures. I hope that every hello and every goodbye will serve to strengthen the connection you currently have with your loved ones. As always, I wish you the very best in all of your relationship journeys.
*Disclaimer:  The names of the couples mentioned in this article do not refer to specific people. Instead, the couples are representative of men and women who are frustrated with their current style of arrivals and departures. 
VIDEO:  To watch a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses "Relationships:  Arrivals and Departures" please click on the image to the right or click here. 


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       (Healthy Relationships Blog #118)


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